Greek Gods, Myths, and Legends

An Introduction to Greek Mythology

Atlas holding world
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Say "ancient history" to a stranger and he is likely to think "endless wars, timelines to memorize, and ruins," but remind him that the topic includes Greek mythology and his eyes will light up. That's because Greek mythology is interesting to almost everyone. The stories are colorful, allegorical, with moral lessons for those who want them and puzzles to mull over. You can find profound human truths and the basics of our western culture.

To understand and appreciate Greek mythology, you need to know who the gods were and their mythical history. This page introduces you to some of these background features of Greek mythology.

  1. The Greek Gods and Goddesses

    Greek mythology tells stories about:

    • gods and goddesses,
    • other immortals,
    • demigods,
    • monsters or other mythical creatures,
    • extraordinary heroes, and
    • some ordinary people.
    Some of the gods and goddesses are called Olympian because they sat on thrones on Mt. Olympus. There were 12 Olympians in Greek mythology, although you may run across more than 12 names. Read about them:
  2. Greek Mythology: In The Beginning...

    In Greek mythology, there was nothing but Chaos in the beginning: Chaos was autogenic. Chaos is called an elemental force, which is force made of itself alone and not composed of anything else. It exists from the beginning of the universe. To coin a phrase, you could say, "in the beginning, there was Chaos." Period.

    The idea of having the principle of Chaos at the beginning of the universe is like the New Testament idea that in the beginning was "The Word".

    Out of Chaos spun out other elemental forces or principles, like Love, Earth, and Sky, and in a later generation, the Titans. Read about this in:

  3. Titans in Greek Mythology

    The first few generations were progressively more like humans: The Titans were the children of Gaia (Ge 'Earth') and Uranus (Ouranos 'Sky') -- the Earth and Sky. The Olympian gods and goddesses were children born later to one specific pair of Titans, making the Olympian gods and goddesses grandchildren of Earth and Sky.

    The Titans and the Olympians inevitably came into conflict. Since you have probably heard a lot about the Olympian gods and little about the Titans, you can guess who won, but before you go writing off the Titans as an irrelevant footnote to Greek mythology, the giant holding the world on his shoulders, Atlas, is a Titan. Read more about the Titans in:

  4. Uranus' Revenge

    Earth (Gaia) and Sky (Ouranos/Uranus), who are considered elemental forces, produced numerous offspring: 100-armed monsters, 1-eyed cyclops, and the Titans. Earth was sad because the very unpaternal Sky wouldn't let their children see the light of day, so she did something about it. She forged a sickle with which her son Cronus unmanned his father. The love goddess Aphrodite sprang up from the foam from Sky's severed genitals. From Sky's blood dripping on Earth sprang the spirits of Vengeance (Erinyes) aka the Furies (sometimes known euphemistically as "the Kindly Ones"). Read about:

    • Uranus' Revenge
  5. Titanomachy

    The Titanomachy 'Titan Battle' (from the word "titan" and the Greek for battle -- "machy") was an important battle for the Olympian gods. This was a 10-year battle between immortals - the gods and the Titans. At the end of it, Zeus became the dominant power. Read about:

  6. Hermes - Thief, Inventor, and Messenger God

    This article on the Greek god Hermes contains family trees of Hermes going back to his great grandparents, the Titans Sky (Uranos/Ouranos) and Earth (Gaia), who are also his great-great grandparents and his great-great-great grandparents. In Greek Mythology, since the gods and goddesses were immortal, there was no limitation on child-bearing years and so a grandparent could also be a parent. Read about:

  7. Roman Gods and Goddesses

    The Romans had their own local gods and goddesses, but when they learned about other gods they frequently either adopted them or combined them with the closest god or goddess in their evolving pantheon. Thus, the vegetation goddess Venus became the equivalent of the Greek love and beauty goddess Aphrodite. The god Mars, whom the Romans esteemed, became associated with the almost despised war god of the Greeks, Ares. The Romans also adopted the gods of their neighbors, the Etruscans and Celts. The Romans also deified some of their emperors. Here are the Roman deities divided into the following categories:

    • Foreign Gods and Goddesses
    • Punic Names for Roman Gods
    • Some Etruscan Gods and Their Roman Counterparts
    • Roman Gods and Goddesses of Agriculture
    • Roman Gods and Goddesses of Children and Childbirth
    • Roman Gods and Goddesses of Virtues and Personifications
    • Roman Genres of Spiritual Entities
    • Imperial Divi
    Find them in: Roman Gods and Goddesses | Sun Gods | War Gods | Moon Gods | Love Goddesses

Gods and Goddesses
An alphabetical index of major gods and goddesses of the world.

Creation Myths

There wasn't an actual ancient Greek Bible to explain creation. You might hear of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey described as "the Bible" of the Greeks, but Homer wasn't considered divinely inspired (well... it was assumed that the Muse helped all writers write) or inerrant. Besides, for the Greek creation stories, one usually doesn't go to Homer, but turns to the other early Greek writer of epic poetry, Hesiod.

Progressively Harsher Ages of Man

There are conflicting stories about the beginnings of human life in Greek mythology. The stories tell of different ages of man, each age getting further and further away from an ideal state (like paradise) and closer and closer to the toil and trouble of the world we live in. Mankind was created and destroyed repeatedly in mythological time, perhaps in an effort to get things right -- at least for creator gods who weren't too happy with almost godlike, almost immortal humans, who had no reason to worship the gods.

Not a Single Origin Story for All Man- and Woman-kind

Some groups had their own, local origin stories about creation that pertained just to the people of that location. The women of Athens, for instance, were the descendants of Pandora.

Flood Myths

Flood myths are universal. The Greeks had their own version of the great flood myth and the subsequent need to repopulate the Earth.

Read about:

Prometheus, Pandora, and Fire

In Greek mythology, Prometheus brought fire to mankind and as a result enraged the king of the gods. To punish mankind, the evils of the world were sent to man in a pretty package. Prometheus paid for his crime with a torture designed for an immortal.

Find out how in:

5 Ages of Man

Hesiod tells a creation story, tracing the lineage of mankind through five successive "ages" or "races" from the "Golden Age" to the present "Iron Age."
Read Hesiod's Works and Days and Theogony.

The Great Homer Nodding

Homer was the most important of the Greek poets, but we do not know exactly who he was, nor whether he wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey or even either of them. For more on Homer, read:

Philemon and Baucis

According to ancient Roman mythology and Ovid's Metamorphoses (which means "transformations"), Philemon and Baucis had lived out their long lives nobly, but in poverty. Jupiter, the king of the gods, had heard of the virtuous couple, but based on all his previous experiences with humans, he had serious doubts. Jupiter was willing to give mankind one final chance before destroying humanity and starting over again. Were we good enough to survive? Read the story of:

Introduction: The Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology and More
Life Begins in Greek Mythology
Myth vs. Legend and Religion
Greek Myths and Legends

What is Myth?

There is no completely satisfactory definition of "myth." To help define myth, people often compare myth with "science" and "religion." Usually, this comparison is unfavorable and myth is relegated to the area of lies.

Greek Myth Today

You probably don't need to know Greek and Roman mythology. I mean, it's not very likely that you'll be in a life or death situation where you'll have to veer your spaceship away from the Titan and King of the Gods (Jupiter) planets and back towards the Love (Venus), War (Mars), and Messenger (Mercury) deities in order to find your way back to Earth.

Nor will it make very much difference if you fail to recognize the mythological figures behind the name of your car (Saturn or Mercury). However, as you can see from the preceding sentences, Greco-Roman mythology is pervasive in Western culture.

Myths and Legends

In common parlance, the stories of the Greek and Roman deities and heroes are indiscriminately referred to as myths and legends. If we wish to be more careful, however, we can differentiate between the two types of story, and between them and folktales and fairy tales, although a story may shift between these different categories, or may contain elements from each of them.

The Bible or the Books of Homer

In the Judaeo-Christian religions, the Bible plays a prominent role. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey play a fundamental role in the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome.

Introduction: The Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology and More
Life Begins: Creation of Humans in Greek Mythology
Myth and Legend and Religion
Greek Myths and Legends

The Trojan War is the most famous story from Greek mythology -- because of the importance of Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey, but it isn't the only important story from Greek mythology. Here are starting points for some of these great Greek myths:

  1. Trojan War - Sequence of Major Events

    The Trojan War provides the background for much of both Greek and Roman literature. Classical writers assumed the subject was familiar to readers. It would be an unnecessary handicap when reading about ancient Greek and Roman history not to know at least the basics of the Trojan War.

    When Paris handed Aphrodite the prize, the apple of discord, he started the series of events that led to the destruction of his homeland Troy, which, in turn, led to the flight of Aeneas and the founding of Troy. On the Greek side, the Trojan War led to the murder of his daughter Electra by Agamemnon, his own murder at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra (Helen of Troy's sister), and her murder at the hands of her son.

    Unravel these twisted threads with the articles on the Trojan War.

  1. Odysseus

    Sometimes called Ulysses by the Romans, Odysseus was the most famous hero of the Trojan War who made it home. Granted, the war took 10 years and his return trip another 10, but Odysseus made it back safely to a family that was, oddly, still waiting for him. His story makes up the second of the 2 works attributed to Homer, The Odyssey, which contains more fanciful encounters with mythological characters than the more war-story Iliad.

  2. House of Atreus

    The House of Atreus was cursed. Horrible crimes were committed by the members of this house, which included Agamemnon and Orestes. In the Greek dramatic festivals the tragedies frequently centered on one or another member of this royal house.

  3. Oedipus

    Another famous house that couldn't keep from violating major societal laws was the Theban royal house of which Oedipus, Cadmus, and Europa were important members who featured prominently in tragedy and legend.

  1. Hercules

    Hercules (Heracles or Herakles) was immensely popular to the ancient Greeks and Romans and continues to be popular in the modern world. Herodotus found a Hercules figure in ancient Egypt. Hercules' behavior was not always admirable, but Hercules paid the price without complaint, defeating impossible odds, time and again. Hercules also rid the world of horrible evils.

    All Hercules' tastes were superhuman, as befits the half-mortal (demigod) son of the god Zeus.

  1. Love Apples and Pomegranate Seeds

    Fruits, which are, after all, the ovaries of their plants, play important roles in love stories of Greek mythology. The apple, familiar from the story of the Garden of Eden, was used in Greek mythology (and in real life) as a means of gaining one's end.

  2. Greek Myths and Legends

    A collection of legends and re-tellings of the Greek myths. There are also public domain texts of the Greek myths told by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Thomas Bulfinch.

More on Greek Mythology